Tag Archives: Chile

Torres del Paine

Cuernos del Paine

Cuernos del Paine across Lago Nordenskjold

Traffic in Torres del Paine

Traffic in Torres del Paine

On our drive from the park entrance to Hosteria Pehoe we got our first taste of the incredible scenery and wildness of the park. Shortly after entering the park we came across this group of guanacos moseying along the road. Over the next couple days we’d routinely see guanacos, both alone and in groups. Maybe a bit surprisingly, we only saw them when driving — it seems like they stay in the foothills around the lakes and don’t wander much into the valleys of the big mountains.

Guanaco

A Guanaco chewing some apparently tasty grass

Typical Road

A typical road in Torres del Paine Park

Hosteria Pehoe

Hosteria Pehoe

Our first night in Torres del Paine we could hear the wind howling outside our hotel room at Hosteria Pehoe and were happy to be inside solid walls. We had looked into staying in a dome tent at the nearby campground, picturing the weather would be somewhat similar to the Colorado mountains, but after experiencing the Patagonian weather we were happy that we opted for something more substantial. We had heard Pehoe was a little shabby but in a beautiful setting, which pretty accurately described it. The room didn’t have any sort of view, and was kinda shabby. However the view from the dining room, looking across Lago Pehoe directly at the Cuernos del Paine, was pretty incredible.

Bridge to Las Torres

A bridge on the way to Las Torres Hotel

After hearing the wind all night we weren’t sure what to expect on our first hike the next morning. We decided to head to Mirador Torres trail which began near the Las Torres hotel. The drive there from our hotel didn’t look too bad on the map, but ended up taking around an hour since it involved navigating dirt roads. As we neared Las Torres hotel we crossed a sketchy, but scenic, narrow bridge and the road became quite a bit rougher. Torres looked like a nice hotel, but it definitely took a little effort to get to.

Las Torres Hotel

Las Torres Hotel

When we started the hike we were pleasantly surprised to find the wind wasn’t all that bad. Once we got up to the valley the wind was intermittently stronger, but in general not that bad. We hiked up to the Campamento Torres, which had a nice view of the Torres, but we didn’t make it all the way up the trail since the last part of the climb looked really steep and the weather looked questionable (which we eventually came to realize is pretty much a permanent state of affairs there).

Bridge on Miradot Torres Trail

The first bridge on the Mirador Torres Trail

Rio Ascencio

Rio Ascencio

Bridge along Mirador Torres Trail

Another bridge along the Mirador Torres Trail

Waterfalls

Waterfalls along the trail

Torres del Paine

The Torres del Paine

Lago Pehoe Catamaran

The Lago Pehoe Catamaran

The next day we decided to take the ferry across Lago Pehoe to the Paine Grande Lodge. We caught the first ferry across and then did a hike to see Glacier Grey. The trail was pretty easy, without the vertical gain that Mirador Torres has, but was windy at times. We reached the view looking out over Glacier Grey in about an hour and a half. The view was cool, you’re about 1000 feet above Lago Grey, but we had to brace ourselves against the wind and so didn’t linger too long.

Glacier Grey

Glacier Grey

Icebergs

Icebergs on Lago Grey

Paine Grande

The summit of Paine Grande which loomed over the trail

Wildflowers

Some unique wildflowers along the trail

Paine Grande Campground

The campground at Paine Grande Lodge

Paine Grande Lodge

The Paine Grande Lodge and Lago Pehoe

After our hike we had some time to kill before our ferry left so we had a couple local beers in the lodge; it was a nice treat for such a remote location. We then caught the last ferry of the day back across the lake. Since the ferry is taken by a lot of circuit trekkers and day-trippers we were a little concerned about not getting a spot on the boat so we got to the dock early. In the end it looked like everyone got on the boat, but we talked to some people later who said that a few people weren’t able to get on the earlier ferry they had taken over, so getting there early seems like a good idea.

Paine Grande

Paine Grande

Overall Torres del Paine was stunning. The wild and remote setting, precariously sheer peaks, hanging glaciers, turquoise lakes, and slightly comical guanacos combine to make a place that lives up to or exceeds its reputation.

Practical Stuff:

  • They won’t accept Argentine pesos in the park, we were able to use credit cards at the Pehoe hotel (and saw signs for them at the Pehoe camping) and dollars at Paine Grande Mountain Lodge.  We also noticed a money exchange sign in the Hotel Las Torres, so it looked like there were possibilities for exchange some places (although these places were few and far between).
  • You buy tickets for the Catamaran across Lago Pehoe on the Catamaran itself. This was unclear to us, even once we arrived at the Catamaran dock. But a little ways into the trip one of the boat crew members busted out a money box on the lower deck and started selling tickets, and somewhat oddly, biscuits and coffee (they seemed to be only accepting Chilean pesos) .
  • We got park/hiking maps (and a warning about the high winds) from the ranger station where we paid our park entry fee.
  • Here’s a couple park maps: Glacier Grey Side, and Torres del Paine Side
Torres del Paine

The Torres del Paine

Salto Grande

The Salto Grande

Curious Guanaco

A curious Guanaco

Little Guanaco

A young, fluffy and curoius Guanaco

Rheas

Some Rheas - Ostrich-like birds that we also saw along the road

Cuernos del Paine

The Cuernos del Paine from Hotel Pehoe

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Driving from El Calafate to Torres del Paine

Welcome to Chile

After a few days in El Calafate we were ready to head to Torres del Paine in Chile. We had tried to find information about the drive prior to our trip and managed to figure out that it was possible although we were a bit unclear on the state of the roads. We did manage to gather that the drive was possible with certain rental car companies (like Hertz) and that it didn’t require a four wheel drive vehicle.

Hertz was helpful in providing us with the paperwork we needed to cross the border, and we were somewhat comforted to see stamps indicating the car had made it across the border before since it didn’t exactly feel like a rugged vehicle. They had also given us guidance on the best roads to take — from the map there looked like two options. The rental car rep had recommended we not take what looked like a shortcut (the unpaved section of Ruta 40 that bypasses Esperanza) because of poor road conditions and the need to fill up at the gas station located on the longer route. She also mentioned another station closer to the border that we should stop at. “They may not have gas here. But if they do, you should get it.”

Ruta 40

The dirt section of Ruta 40 turing off from Ruta 5, this is the road that they didn't recommend we take

On the morning of January 5th we ate breakfast and went to fill up our gas tank before leaving El Calafate. Unfortunately, the gas station near our hotel was out of the gas we needed (Super) and when we drove to the other station in town they were also out and said they wouldn’t get more until 5:00 that evening. We were estimating the drive would take at least 5 hours but didn’t want to head out so late. We had half a tank of gas but were unsure if that was enough to get us to the next town, so we drove to Hertz to ask what they recommended and they were kind enough to call ahead to Esperanza (fittingly “hope” in Spanish) to see if they had gas. They did, so we jumped in the car and made it to the town, which didn’t seem to consist of much more than a truck stop. But they did have gas.

The road from El Calafate to Esperanza and from there to Cancha Carrera was paved and in good condition. We stopped in Estancia Tapi Aike for gas, having learned our lesson about getting gas when we could. It turned out the small store did have gas, the attendant just had to run out to turn on the generator in order to pump it for us.

Road to the Border

Yes, you're going the right way -- the dirt road to the Chilean border

About four miles before reaching the Argentine border crossing we turned onto a dirt road that continued most of the way to the park (although there was a brief span of pavement just after the Chile Border crossing).

Argentinian Border Crossing

The Argentinian side of the border crossing

When we came to the Argentine border crossing were at first unsure if we needed to stop both there and at the Chile border crossing, but after some broken Spanish exchanges we figured out that we did need to stop. The office was small and a bit chaotic, but we made it through, drove a bit more, and then reached the office for the Chilean border. That office was bigger, a bit more orderly, and had public bathrooms (the first of which we’d seen since Esperanza).

Nearby there are several small gift shops/convenience store type shops. We stopped in one in order to change some US dollars to Chilean pesos (they only accepted US dollars or Euros for exchange — we had come to realize that the cross-border relations were a tad chilly). The exchange rate seemed reasonable, but they would only change our pristine bills; they didn’t even take a clean $20 that had been folded.

Once in Chile we drove for about another hour on pavement and dirt roads before encountering the park entry office, where we stopped to pay entrance fees. From here on the road became significantly more sinuous and the scenery more impressive. From the park entry it probably took us about another hour to get to Hosteria Pehoe, where we were staying.

Open Road

The open road -- this is what much of the drive was like

Practical Stuff:

  • Route (here’s a map): Ruta 11 east out of El Calafate, continue after the road connects with Ruta 40. When Ruta 40 splits off to the right (and turns into dirt) continue to Esperanza on Ruta 5. From Esperanza drive west on Ruta 7 and atEstancia Tapi Aike Ruta 40 rejoins the road. Continue on the paved road to the Cancha Carrera turnoff, where the road again turns to the west. After the two border crossings turn right and drive north to Torres del Paine.
  • Timing: The drive going there took us 8 hours, it was closer to 6 on the way back. You could do it faster if you want to drive like the Argentinians at insanely high speeds. However, it’s good to allow a full day as the Argentine border crossing was crowded and slow.
  • Borders: We crossed at Cancha Carrera (called Rio Don Guillermo on the Chilean side), which is less frequented than the border crossing near Rio Turbio, but shorter from El Calafate so a better bet if you are on your own.  They were doing some construction on the Chilean side of the border, so it may be expanding. At the border crossings we had to wait in lines to show first our passports at one window and then the documents for our car at another window. This process was more clear at the Chilean border, but harder to figure out at the Argentine border which was packed with a lot of people who weren’t exactly patiently waiting in an orderly line (on the way back we were more ready to throw some elbows to hold our position).
  • Maps: We bought road/hiking maps at one of the gas stations in Calafate and got a map of Torres del Paine from the park entry office.
  • Get gas when you can!  We aren’t sure if running out of gas in Calafate was an anomaly, but it made us understand why our rental car rep recommended filling up when we could.  We had enough gas for getting into the park for driving around the park/returning.  We met a couple who had managed to buy a little gas off of someone once inside the park, but it was for a premium ($18 per gallon!)

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